What better way for the Independence Young Matrons to observe its 60th Children's Theater production this year than with “The Pirates and the Treasure Map,” an original play written and directed by Independence resident Ray Ettinger.

“I decided to make it a complete original play,” he says of the annual show that opens today and continues next week, March 5-8. Unlike the seven previous shows Ettinger has written and directed for the Young Matrons, this year's production is not based on a fairy tale. “I was a teacher for 30 years, and teachers get a raw deal and are not recognized the way they should be. So the whole (play) came about saying education is a good thing and teachers are good people. And that is basically the idea (of The Pirates and Treasure Map.)”

Never having done a show about pirates, Ettinger decided to write one about a crew of female pirates using six basic subjects taught in schools as examples.

Says Ettinger: “I wanted (the show) to be a good representation for our educational system. What you learn in school, you never know when some of that knowledge will help you out. In the show we talk about geography, math, art, language, music and science, he notes, adding: “ I looked up on the Internet the curriculum for the lower grades to see what type of things they studied and tried to include those in what we were doing. I also watched a lot of 'Abbott and Costello' which is in (the show). I talked with my nephews , who are elementary school kids, and we got a lot of pirate jokes together for them. I include a lot of different things in there.”

The hour-long show centers around a pirate crew with a huge problem – other pirates are beating them to the treasure chests because they are uneducated and cannot figure out the clues that are written as riddles. Determined to solve the riddle and find the treasure first, the crew captures a teacher (actually the Good Fairy in disguise) to help them with their lessons. And as they solve all the riddles and put together the whole puzzle, they find the answers they need with the help of sea creatures.

“It's actually one of my scariest plays,” he says, “ because it is completely original. I have no idea how the kids are going to react to it, because they won't be familiar with the story at all. With the fairy tale, even though I intend to take a fairy tale and turn it on its ear, at least the kids are familiar with the basic story. So they enjoy seeing where the differences are.”

As a perfectionist, Ettinger's biggest challenge, he says, is “making sure the storyline goes all the way through. That even with all the jokes and everything else happening on stage, the storyline comes out. That is always important.”

With some 4,000 elementary students expected to fill the William Chrisman High School Auditorium next week, the first and foremost desire of the former Chrisman teacher is this: for “all kids to have a good time experiencing live theater – some perhaps for the first time –and that they totally enjoy it. And, if they pick up a moral along the way,” he adds: “That is great.”

Among the 17 cast members is Gloria Stone, who portrays the Good Fairy and the Teacher. As the Good Fairy, “I am going to free the pirates because they are going to kidnap the Teacher and I cannot allow that,” she says. “So I talk to the children and tell them what we are going to do and get them involved in the show, Then I go off stage and return as the Teacher. ... I lead them through each lesson and then I give them a little information and make them work through it,” she explains. “So it is a good exercise in thinking through subjects on things you know. It points out that everyone has a subject that appeals to them.”

Appearing in her 17th Children's Theater production is IYM President Pat Bounds, who portrays Rusty O'Flint, the second mate to the captain. She brings clues to the captain from all the sea creatures. Then there is committee chair Christy Cavaness-Adams who portrays the Math Wizard. Other cast members are Dian Buckley, Judy Banks, Susan Jones, Dee Brandt, Sandy Bressman, Patty Chadwick, Nancy Melton, Cynthia Peters, Betty Langton, Linda Wilber, Mary Anne Adkins, Bev Huffman and JoAnn Bowers.

As a free gift to the community, an invitation-only performance was presented this morning to pre-schoolers and community groups in the Independence School District. The play will be presented March 5-7 at 10 a.m. to kindergartners, as well as first and second graders in the Independence School District. The public is invited to attend the final performance at 7 p.m. March 8 in the William Chrisman Auditorium.

-- Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.